The public schools enroll 677,000 students: 79% White, 11% African American, and 5% Latino, with 54% living in poverty and 3% learning English. The State spends $9,274 per pupil. (Most recent NCES data)
“The General Assembly shall, by appropriate legislation, provide for an efficient system of common schools throughout the State." Ky. Const. § 183.
In 1989, in Rose v. Council for Better Education, the Kentucky Supreme Court held that the General Assembly did not satisfy the constitutional requirement to provide an efficient system of common schools throughout the State. To meet the constitutional requirement, the Court explained, the education system must be adequately funded, ensure equality, and be designed to provide every child with seven delineated capacities.
Courts in Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas have adopted the “Rose capacities,” or a version of them, for their own states. The Kentucky Court wrote that an efficient system of education must have as its goal to provide each and every child with:
- Sufficient oral and written communication skills to enable students to function in a complex and rapidly changing civilization;
- Sufficient knowledge of economic, social, and political systems to enable the students to make informed choices;
- Sufficient understanding of governmental processes to enable the students to understand the issues that affect his or her community, state, and nation;
- Sufficient self-knowledge and knowledge of his or her mental and physical wellness;
- Sufficient grounding in the arts to enable each student to appreciate his or her cultural and historical heritage;
- Sufficient training or preparation for advanced training in either academic or vocational fields so as to enable each child to choose and pursue life work intelligently; and
- Sufficient levels of academic or vocational skills to enable public school students to compete favorably with their counterparts in surrounding states, in academics or in the job market.
The Court wrote: “The children of the poor and the children of the rich, the children who live in the poor districts and the children who live in the rich districts must be given the same opportunity and access to an adequate education. This obligation cannot be shifted to local counties and local school districts.”
The Court also declared education a fundamental right under the State constitution.
Legislation enacted in response to the Court decision improved educational opportunity and academic achievement in Kentucky.
In 2007, in the consolidated case Council for Better Education v. Williams and Young v. Williams, a State trial court granted summary judgment to defendants, stating that plaintiffs had not included evidence of inadequate outcomes, and wrote that because achievement in the State had improved under the funding system, the system was not arbitrary. Plaintiffs did not appeal.